tv [untitled] July 1, 2012 7:30pm-8:00pm EDT
saturday noon, sunday 5:00 eastern on c-span2 and 3. now "the contenders", our 14-week series on key political figures who ran for president and lost who nevertheless changed political history. we feature former secretary of state and supreme court chief charles hughes, who ran in 1916 against woodrow wilson. this was recorded at supreme court here in washington, d.c. through labor weekend watch "the contenders" on c-span3. >> what we claim we want in both the presidential candidate and a president. >> the man who did get it, a man called charles evans hughes, all but won the election in 1816. when wilson went to bed election
night, he thought he was beaten. >> if he had been elected how american history goes in several different directions on suffrage for women, civil rights what is he doing on foreign policy, does he -- germany baited us into war but would hughes have avoided that? he's the one you could write novels about. >> charles evans hughes on the supreme court, left the supreme court when he ran for president, and then went back on the supreme court. one of the finest minds on the court. >> a fellow justice called charles evans hughes, the greatest in our great line of chief justices. >> why hughes? robert jackson provided part of the answer when he was attorney general. jackson said that hughes, quote, looks like god and talks like god, end quote. >> in 16 footage of charles evans hughes, shot as hughes republican presidential nominee campaigned after the republican national convention.
tonight "the contenders" look as at life and legacy of charles evans hughes, who was a two-term new york governor, secretary of state, and twice a supreme court justice. of all of this, he is perhaps best known for his role as the chief justice during the years of fdr's new deal. "the contenders" is live this evening from the united states supreme court. just across from the capitol in washington, d.c., then-chief justice hughes inaugurated this building when it first opened to the court in 1935. let me introduce you to our first two guests of the evening who are joining us to talk about the life and legacy of charles evans hughes. david pietrusza, 120, the year of six presidents, and berna a dette meyler, a professor at
cornell law school, which is hughes' alma mater. we'll jump into the election. set the stage for us. 1916, woodrow wilson wants to be re-elected, europe is at war. frame what was going on in the country and in the presidential campaign. >> well, woodrow wilson said when he ran it would be a tragedy if his administration was framed by foreign policy or defined by that and turns out to be just that. america which starts his term focusing on the progressive era, the income tax lowering the tariffs, the federal reserve system changes after 1914. with the beginnings of war in europe. america is fighting to stay out, but there is a question of preparedness for the war. are we prepared in case anything happens? are we being tough? are we being too weak? secretary of state brian resigns from wilson's cabinet because he thinks we're being too tough. so it's really a question of war and peace in europe, war and
peace in mexico. aside from all of the domestic issues. but war overshadows everything. >> and charles evans hughes is serving on the supreme court as an associate justice. how does he get from there into the nominating process? >> well, he gets there somewhat reluctantly because he enjoyed his position as associate justice on the court and was quite satisfied with his role there. but then he felt called by duty after several candidates didn't pan out for the republicans, he felt called to actually accept the nomination for president. but in a sense he wasn't a particularly gung ho presidential candidate. >> what was the republican party like at that stage? >> it's fractured. in 1912 there had been the great teddy roosevelt/taft split. t.r. runs at bull moose party candidate. and there's a question, there's a real question that year, is --
are they going to be able to put the republican party back together again? and do you take roosevelt? roosevelt is still radioactive with the old guard. if you take someone who is too conservative, then the progressives will not come back, even though their party a has been dying on the vine for the previous four years. so you've got to pick someone who is respected by both sides, someone who is not some wild man from the prairies or from the west like a bora or a johnson, and someone who is not a conservative like root, and the man to do it, also the man who has been out of politics since 1910, because he's out of the supreme court, he has not been out of the -- he's not been a part of the 1912 battles, is, is mr. hughes, and he's respected by just about everyone in the party. >> what were his politics at the time? >> his politics at the time were mildly progressive.
as i say, he's not like a wild man from the west like a la folla or norris. but what he is he has moved from the practice of law. he was never interested really in being part of politics. when he first comes to new york and establishes his law practice they say would you like to run for judge? no. would you like an appointment to a federal judgeship? no. but he is asked to investigate the gas monopoly in new york city, which is really gouging the commerce. it's six companies, it's been going on since 1880. and they come to him and say, do you want to take over this investigation? he says, no, i really don't, i really don't, but he does -- he says how much time do i have to prepare for the testimony, for hearings? a week, a week. with a great brilliance this man has, he's able to pull everything together, not do it in a bombastic way, but simply go through all the papers, grill
the executives on the stand, bring the whole thing down, ultimately what this leads to is a public service commission in new york state, and you half the gas rates and lelectricity rate in the city by a third. then he moves on to fixing the insurance agency in new york state and really becomes a national figure. this is 1906 through 19 -- just before 1906. he's a progressive-type candidate who is opposed to the machine of the democrats in the city tamany because they're protecting these monopolies, but also the massive new york state political machine under boss platt, which ruled when teddy roosevelt was on. t.r. would defer to the bosses. hughes moves forward, wins the governorship, puts forward a bunch of reforms and moves on to court for of the first time. >> today it would be
almost unimaginable for someone to resign from this position, and the building behind us to run for a national elective office. what was the reaction at the time? was it a surprise? how was it viewed? >> i think some were surprised, but also i think that the office of supreme court justice wasn't quite what it has become now. i think part of the reason people would be so shocked today, if a justice resigned, is that the appointments process is much more difficult to actually get through. and it's much more difficult to confirm any justice. so justices are appointed young and are expected to stay for the rest of their working career. now, hughes' first appointment as justice was quite uncontentious. his second one was almost the beginning of the contentions within the appointments process. it occurred fairly soon after there were new rules about senate debate on nominees, and it garnered a lot of criticism from progressives, actually,
surprisingly given his career as a governor of new york. >> we are, as you can see on the plaza of the supreme court. beautiful early october night here. we'll be here for two hours tonight in the contender series, 14 men who ran for the presidency and lost. but changed political history. and charles evans hughes, made his mark through his many positions but particularly in his role as the chief justice and then a second half of the program we'll focus on the whole contentious era with the court backing and the new deal and he was at the helm in the court during that period and interesting things to talk with you. later on we'll open up the phone lines as we've done for each of the programs and offer questions and observations during the discussion. where was the convention that year? >> i think it was in chicago. maybe philadelphia. i'm not sure. the interesting thing is that there's two conventions going on a block apart from each other. that's -- that's the real interest in geography that year. the republicans go through a
series of ballots. i think hughes is third on the first ballot. he moves up until he's nominated on the third ballot. meanwhile, meanwhile the progressives are meeting just a short ways away and what they are doing is debating who they can accept, who they can accept. t.r. is saying i'm not going to do it. and he throws out a couple of names, leonard wood, who was a big advocate -- a general, army general, advocate of preparedness, got in trouble with the wilson administration, or henry cabot lodge. neither one of these guys is acceptable to the progressives. so he's throwing out that poison pill. what happens is, at the end, the only person that they can agree on, the progressives, is to any extent, is hughes. but they still are in a great tiff and they kind of dissolve the party, the party just evaporates, but they go away,
they don't run a third party. this -- this is one of the great things of the legacy of hughes' race in 1916. we take the republican party for granted as a continuing thing since lincoln and all of this. it didn't have to be in 1916. if he's not the guy willing to put it together, maybe the progressives go back in again and we don't know really what happens with republican party, does go the way of the wigs, do the progressives replace it? who can say at that point? but the thing is hughes takes the position, didn't want to do it, really is uncertain what to to do but walks away from the supreme court judgeship. he had said, when he had take continue and when they were talking 1912, would you be the compromised candidate to avoid the taft/roosevelt split? no, no, no, i won't do it, finally he does it.
the democrats cannot fully criticize nominating a judge for the presidency. and there's a reason for that. because in 1904 they take parker off the supreme court of the state of new york and run him for the presidency. >> did he get the nomination on the first ballot? >> parker, no. hughes, he gets it on the third ballot. >> how difficult was it? i mean, do they come to the court and sit down with him and say here's other offer? >> i think they called him on the phone, someone called him on the phone. of course back then, candidates, even nonreluctant candidates, would not go to the conventions. there was a formal nominating process. weeks later they would have a big speech, sort of like surprise, you're our nominee. the fellow doing it that year was warren harding, who had been chair of the convention. but he's undecided. even his family members and his closest associates are not sure
what he's going to do. now, there had been people in the early days of the republic who had resigned from the court to take other positions. there had been a david davis on the court, '70s and '80s in the 19th century who took a senatorial nomination out in illinois, but not since then and certainly not since hughes. >> and can you speak, add if you are also familiar with this, but he had been a politician before he came to the court. how was he hughes a national campaigner? >> that campaign is probably the worst thing he ever does in his life, his life really, not just his public career because he excels at everything. but that campaign, he's getting off the mark slowly. it's -- he's doing a dance and it's the dance that jack kennedy and richard nixon do in 1960. we've got the black vote in the
north. we've got the southern white votes. what do we do? and nick kennedy carries both. the same thing occurs with the peace votes and the pro-war people in 1916. wilson runs the campaign. he kept us out of war. and hughes really is doing this dance, and he ends up losing both sides, really. he ends up losing the pro-war people, and he ends up losing the people who want to stay neutral. he's branded as being pro-german. you see editorial cartoons, lump with william randolph hurst with the irish nationalists. at end of the day the german-american vote goes to wilson. so he doesn't elucidate the campaign themes very well. he's fighting on things like the tariff, which is not a popular issue for the republicans that year.
there are labor issues. there are labor issues, which are very important that year. there's two big things which cross him up. they do not work well for him. even though, as governor of new york, he has an admirable record. he establishes workers comp boards, cases that whole system, first in the country. there's all sorts of labor regulations put in place for the first time. so he's a champion of labor. but there, there's two things that happen. on the infamous california trip, which we'll get into later, two things that happen. the one thing which is never talked about is he blunders into san francisco where the chamber of commerce is trying to break the unions. they're particularly trying to do it in the restaurants. they want them to be open shops. in other words, you don't have to join the union to be there. and they force their restaurants to put up open shop signs. where do they schedule his appearance? in a restaurant with an open shop sign on the door. this sets off working men not only in california but around
the country, union members around the country and also in september there's a threatened national rail strike. and the administration and the congress passes the adamson act which establishes an eight-hour day. first thing -- first time nationwide. and constitutionality is threatened later, but hughes opposes it, and again, this cuts into his labor vote. so he's got problems and he really doesn't -- really doesn't -- isn't able to really come out and say what he would do better than wilson. >> here the phone numbers. we'll get to calls in six, seven minutes 202-737-0001 for eastern and central time zones. in addition to labor issues, there were also women suffrage issues. at that time, women still did not have the right to vote in a national level. can you tell us about that aspect of the campaign? >> definitely.
well, wilson had already changed his position to some extent on women's suffrage. initially, he was quite opposed to the notion that women would have the vote. both of his wives, actually, were also of his view on this matter. at some point one of his daughters, though, became quite active in the suffrage movement and his views were gradually shifting. however, at the time of the election campaign in 1916, he still believed that women suffrage should be decided on a state by state level rather than a national amendment. hughes went far beyond that to -- far beyond a lot of the republicans -- to claim there should actually be a women's suffrage amendment. and this is kind of puzzling because in fact the states in which women could vote largely went for wilson rather than hughes, which is somewhat paradoxical given hughes' support, and there may be various reasons for that, one of them being this issue of the war
and the women's peace movement, which was opposed to the war. >> 12 states at that time had given women the right to vote. and for his support of women's suffrage a group of supporters of charles evans hughes formed a fan club, i guess, who campaigns for him. they went by the name of the hughesettes which seems modern when you think about it. we've got interesting things to show you. one of the nieces of someone who was a hughesette, put together a website that tells the story of her aunt's participation in the campaign. it's elizabethfreeman.org. we're showing you some of the history of her aunt as a hughesette campaigning for charles evans natural resources -- charles evans hughes in the 1916 election. just to also further explain your position, charles evans hughes' law firm, practiced private practice, still exists today in new york city.
we went there and talked to one of the senior partners who talked a little bit about charles evans hughes and his support for women's voting. >> very proud of an original addition of "the independent weekly" magazine which came out the week after justice hughes received the republican nomination for the presidency. that's mrs. hughes on the cover, who was obviously a very important person in justice hughes' life and in particular with respect to the issue of the magazine she's on here because of his support of women's suffrage, which she supported as well. something we learned in the magazine that we weren't aware of beforehand, which isn't often talked about with respect to justice hughes, is that the republican party platform in 1916 was that simply each state would have the right to determine whether or not women would have the right to vote. justice hughes gave a speech which is reprinted in this
magazine after that in which he said that he was going on the republican party platform and support the susan b. anthony amendment to the constitution which would provide the women the right to vote throughout the united states and wouldn't give each state the right to determine >> from that we will move to election night because we know some of you have questions about there is the outcome. i read that wilson went to bed on election night thinking that he lost. >> he thought he lost and he was -- i wouldn't say he was resigned to it, certainly not -- he was almost about ready to either give up the presidency very nobly or in a huff. it's your call how you describe it. he has a plan where okay, i've lost, i'm getting out, and back then presidents did not take office in january. he had to wait until march. so he had a big interact and you had a situation where the country was drifting towards war. so what do you do?
his plan was he would appoint hughes as secretary of state getting the jump on warren harding because the secretary of state was second in line to the presidency. so once hughes was shuffled aside secretary of state lansing shuffled aside which kind of dissolves and leaves the field open to hughes. >> it was an incredibly close election. >> it's about a quarter million popular votes. it's not that close in the popular total. but it's so close in california. that's the key. it's decided by about 13 electoral votes. that is what the situation was in california.
on the second incident, which occurs in california, and really the particular nature of the incident is kind of overplayed. because, again, back to that progressive party convention, which kind of dissolves and leaves the field open to hughes. they are in a bad mood. they are not resolved as to who they are going to be endorsing. and one of the people with a bad temper is the governor of california. and johnson is running for the senate in california. he has a primary and he's a very ornery guy. hughes because of the limitation of travel in the days has to get out to the coast early and back to the east coast where all of the votes are later towards the end where it's crucial. so he swings through the california. he does this before the primary. johnson is the governor, he's not the candidate. the california republican party
is so split and they cannot make any decisions on who will escort who, who will chair the meeting. it is -- it is worse than palestinians and israelis. it is the feelings are so bad, and finally, what happens is, there's an incident in long beach, california, where hughes, who is still not met johnson, goes in to rest at the hotel there, doesn't know that johnson is there. johnson knows that hughes is there. they leave the hotel, they never meet. and it is -- it is blamed that hughes has alienated johnson in this. but really johnson could have made the move. he knew, he could have gone over, and in fact right after that, hughes through an intermediary invites johnson to chair a meeting and introduce him in sacramento. johnson refuses.
and hughes loses the state by about 3,000 votes. they don't know until the next friday, friday after the tuesday of election, that he has lost the state. they don't know he's lost the election until that friday. but meanwhile, hiram johnson wins the primary and wins state of california by 300,000 votes. he wins it by immense amount. a lot of people blame hiram johnson. when johnson goes back to california, they endorse him but then they split up, they split up, and they hold separate meetings, we'll be for hughes, we'll be for wilson, he couldn't have swung all of the progressives if he wanted to but might have swung 1600. >> we mentioned 12 states wilson won 9 of the 12. that says about charles evans hughes that he wasn't so much of a political tactician as he was acting on conviction? >> well i think so. i think he was much more of a principled person and a
principled lawyer than a politician in certain respects. so i think part of, as i mentioned before, part of the reason that the -- some of the women didn't vote for him because of his -- the perception that he would bring america to war whereas wilson had promised or they felt that wilson pledged to remain at peace. but really, also i think one of the things that the hiram johnson incident really outlines and shows about hughes' character is that he wasn't really very interested in curing favor with other politicians or with people in the party machine. so i think that this has shown demonstratively in his gubernatorial career where he tries to oust some people who have censures within the administration and that's met very disfavorably because people think that people deserved loyalty from the republican party.
so he really just wasn't interested in playing a lot of political games and i think that that hurt him in the election. >> let's take some of our viewers' calls. take our first call of the evening from rootstown, ohio, this is duncan. hello, duncan. >> caller: hi. >> what's your question? >> caller: i was curious about any bad things charles evans hughes might have said about woodrow wilson, any bad things he might have done with the first term of his presidency. >> any bad things he said about wilson? >> he certainly criticized the lack of preparedness for wilson in terms of not having an army, a navy up to speed in case war came. he was also very critical of the wilson policy in mexico where you have the revolutions overthrowing the diaz administration, and i think 1912 or regime, and then the country devolves into chaos. if you see the movies "viva
via." you just see one revolution replacing another right on wilson is concerned that, say, general huerta not impose another dictatorship on mexico and sends marines into veracruz to block german arm shipments. there's incidents, crazy incidents over why they come in. it's like a flag flew here or not there. but the troops come, they go. mexico gets worse and worse and then in 1916, you get the columbus/new mexico incident pancho villa kills american nationals and sends the force into mexico under black jack pershing. that's another disaster.
there's a lot of things to criticize about mexico, preparedness in the wilson administration. these are the two things which hughes plays on. >> syracuse is up next. this is curtis. welcome to the conversation, curtis. >> caller: good evening. thank you for "the contenders." i just wanted to talk about a very important decision that charles evans hughes wrote and i'll get through this quickly. the national industrial recovery act was ruled unconstitutional in 1935 and later that year the national labor relations act was passed. and then they thought that was going to be ruled unconstitutional but it came to the high court in jones and lofton steel in 1937. i think the high court was under pressure to change their positions from ruling new deal laws unconstitutional and hughes wrote that decision that ruled national labor relations able constitutional.
i think the moral of that story is that even the high court can be put under political pressure to change their position. thank you very much. >> thanks very much. knowing we'll spend a lot more time on it a brief answer thank you. >> you raise a crucial point and a crucial contention among historians the question of whether the switch in time that saved the nine, which is what defeated the scheme that franklin roosevelt had proposed, was actually politically motivated or whether it was consistent with the evolution of the justices including roberts and chief justice hughes and we'll get into that later. >> louisville, kentucky, shawn. good evening to you. >> caller: thank you. i was calling -- i'm a student at law school -- i was wondering what chief justice hughes' court have on fdr's view? thank you for "the contenders". >> thanks very much. basic outlook of the new deal programs ove w